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[49] Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

I just finished the novel yesterday but a whirl of thoughts well up in my mind. The rich, multiple layers (figurative meanings) of the book left me thinking about the characters and plot for a while. Past experiences of Ishiguro’s works at one point draws me an idea that he might have used an unreliable narrator again but quickly it becomes obvious that is not the case. The novel depicts a dystopian society in 1990s England that breeds human clones to become organ donors for “the normals.” So Ishiguro goes Huxley? Not quite.

The characters in Never Let Me Go are never brought at direct conflict with their oppressor, like in Brave New World or even in 1984. As children, these donors are educated and disciplined in school until they are ready for the donations. Their internal organs are systematically plucked out at the recovery centers.

The narrative affords a magnified view of humanity of the characters. From the very beginning, their fate are ineluctable and they seem to accept their destiny meekly. The narrator, Kathy, is oversensitive and obsessive with others’ motivations, gesture, remarks, and emotions. And the result is a narration, filled with rich nuances and niches, as if utterance and movement each person makes is deliberate, premeditated and loaded with significance. The air of secrecy and suspense pervades the story. Everything between the three friends–Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy–seems really delicate and tense.

The novel revolves around this obscure theme of human soul. The normals, who try to clone, view the students as sub-human. The conflict that I see is that in order to breed these clones for a specific function, the normals would have to breed emotion out of these clones in order to fulfill the end purpose. The students are consistently reminded of proper behavior that a good conscience allows.

Ishiguro reveals to his readers that the students’ adult “guardians” believe they are human beings with souls, and the “guardians” spend a great deal of time and effort trying to prove this to the other “normals.” A sense of supremacy exists in the guardians and even in this woman, Madame, who makes frequent trips to the school to collect students’ arts. The students always think that Madame doesn’t like them and shun them as if they are some insects (spider). This takes us to yet another, deeper question posed by the novel: Can members of a privledged class save those who are less so, or must the oppressed save themelves?

Why can’t these students just flee and assimilate into normal life?

Update on Summer Reading Challenge
My Challenge: 1 book a week and only from my stacks.
Books read so far: 4
Date: June 1 through August 31

7 Responses

  1. Hi Matt!

    I actually have this on top of my reading pile and am looking forward to it. I’m going to read it first and then come back to your review to see what you thought. Actually, once I am done with this class I’m in right now, I’m definitely going to peruse through your blog to see how your trip went.

    TTYL 🙂

  2. Now that sounds like a novel I need to read.

  3. I have this one on my TBR pile too. I have to show off a bit… One of my friends got to meet Ishiguro at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival last year and as she knows how much I love Ishiguro’s novels she got me an autographed copy! That actually may be why I don’t pick it up… It’s too precious 🙂

  4. I loved this novel in large part because of the masterful imitation of English boarding school narratives that formed a considerable part of my reading diet as a kid.

    On one level the book is about the horror of technology outpacing ethics. On another level, the book is about the terrifyingly banal lived-experience of ethical and historical ignorance, from the point of view of those who are history’s victims. Caught up in their personal feuds and dramas, the children can’t see that they are part of an exploited and oppressed class, even as they participate in their own exploitation and oppression (indeed the tone of the narrator even encourages us to continue to think of her as a “child” or “student” – in other words, not as morally significant as an adult – although she is a woman of 30!).

    Maybe it’s the lingering Marxist in me, but I read this book as an extended allegory for the tense mix of acceptance/ignorance/frustration of marginalized people who happen to live in nominal democracies with some measure of material comfort.

  5. Mingerspice,
    Thanks for all your comments. 🙂
    The children often find themselves in socially hostile and disadvantaged situation because they are often left at the mercy of the adults. In Never Let Me Go they are for sure deprived of the knowledge of the experiment of which they are the subjects.

    Don’t you think that many of the Americans are kinda like these children in the sense that they don’t really know what’s going on with the White House?

  6. Hi Matt!

    Where oh where have you gone. Almost a month since your last blog. Cruel and inhuman punishment. Enjoy your blog immensely.


  7. […] five writers do you particularly admire for their use of language? John Banville, Michael Ondaatje, Kazuo Ishiguro, Edmund White, and W. Somerset […]

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